Women of Africa Deserve Our Respect

Cape Times (South Africa), March 21, 2012 | Go to article overview

Women of Africa Deserve Our Respect


ON THIS DAY in 1960, in Sharpeville, something sacrilegious happened. Defenceless daughters and sons of the African soil were mowed down in cold blood.

Their only offence was to refuse to be ordered around, to have their movements restricted in the land of their ancestors, through the imposition of pass laws by the foreign sons of Europe.

They could not stomach anymore the humiliation of African men and women, who were woken up in the middle of nights, to produce passes on demand.

Led by the then president of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), Mangaliso Sobukwe, Africans presented themselves at police stations to demand arrest rather than carry the dompas, a symbol of Africans' humiliation.

For those who thought that their "race" was chosen by God to rule over backward and uncivilised Africans, this African boldness could not be stomached. They used the only language they thought would make sense to sub-humans - the language of the gun.

According to an eyewitness in Tom Lodge's Sharpeville - an apartheid massacre and its consequences, among those who were the first to pay the price for this African defiance was an unborn baby who fell out its mother's womb after the mother received a gunshot wound. Another unrecorded version says that in fact it was not just one baby but a set of twins that protruded that day. Such is the high price that African women have paid for our freedom.

An emphasis on women's role in the liberation struggle is important because, firstly, it is underplayed, and secondly, women continue being on the margins in our society.

This emphasis is significant considering that the PAC had issued an instruction that women should stay at home while men were expected to surrender themselves for arrest. But women went all the same and were reported to be in the front row. There was a high price to pay for this audacity - one woman's chest was blown away by apartheid's bullets and she stopped breathing forever.

These images flashed through my mind on March 7 as I was reading Christi van der Westhuizen's piece ("Tightening control, excluding women") in the Cape Times.

Van der Westhuizen was reflecting on the re-tabled Traditional Courts Bill, which, it is feared, will further disempower already disempowered rural women by denying them fair representation.

Admirably, Van der Westhuizen points out that contrary to the view that these laws derive from African traditions, they, in fact originate from colonial masters, in the same way that the colonialists, after defeating and dispossessing Africans selected some puppets and imposed them on Africans as "chiefs".

These puppets deviated from the African precepts which prescribed to chiefs to rule with justice and with the consent of the citizens. For in African culture, a chief is a chief only through the will of the people.

Van der Westhuizen's intervention is a welcome contribution for those of us who invoke African traditions as the basis for a future just society because it enables observers to appreciate the difference between Africans' own progressive culture from that which is distorted, reactionary and oppressive.

According to African cultural teachings, as Mandivamba Rukuni tells us in his book, Being Afrikan, "mothers are always closer to our Creator than fathers are, because of the role mothers play in giving birth - with the Creator, physically giving life".

The Ghanaian, Felix Boateng, in his essay "African Traditional Education: A Tool For Intergenerational Communication", anthologised in African Culture: The Rhythms of Unity edited by Molefi Kete Asante and Kariamu Welsh Asante, concurs with Rukuni. He tells us that the Akan of Ghana reason that "(i)f the mother gave the blood to the child, then the child is closer to her than anyone else".

History tells us that when Africans were still Africans, women played key roles in the spiritual and political realms. …

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